Sunday, 20 May 2018

Bitter Sweet Rawdon

Alwoodley  0  Rawdon Old Boys  2

West Riding County FA – Challenge Cup Final

For some inexplicable reason, I’d never managed to visit the impressive West Riding County FA ground in the South Leeds village of Woodlesford.

It’s probably because I tend not to go to Cup Finals, and consequently I’ve never been to the Principality Stadium in Cardiff (except to see Madonna!), nor have I been to Moorways Stadium in Derby, or indeed the Lancashire FA Ground in Leyland. I did once go to Holmes Park in Leicester, but that was by accident rather than design when another game I’d set out to see was postponed and I happened to stumble across it.

So why now? Well, I’d heard it reported that Bradford based Route One Rovers had made an application to move to Step 6 at the end of the current season, and as part of that application they had stated their intention to move to Woodlesford as their facilities in Esholt were not up to the required standard. It was enough to tempt me off my backside and go and have a look at it.

With a plethora of finals to choose from, I opted for the Challenge Cup competition, which to my understanding is the second most senior of the competitions in the County. The highest ranked of course being the Senior Cup, which is competed for by sides from Step 6 upwards, and has already been won this season by Farsley Celtic.

Rawdon Old Boys, who have won the First Division of the West Yorkshire League and move to Step 7 next season, were playing Yorkshire Amateur League side Alwoodley who were based in North Leeds. Alwoodley had already accounted for Ilkley Town, Golcar United, Aberford Albion and Horbury Town who all in theory play at a higher level, so clearly they were certainly no mugs. Golcar in fact could still win the West Riding County Amateur League so that victory was a major turn up.

The ground at Woodlesford is certainly impressive and clearly the money from player fines has been well spent! A decent sized car park leads to some turnstiles, and to the right of the entrance is a large seated stand that runs the full length of the pitch. Opposite is a grass bank that provides an excellent elevated viewing position. While behind the goal are the dressing rooms, offices and a large clubhouse area. Clearly it’s a facility used on a daily basis, and with a further area upstairs (presumably offices), it’s very smart indeed.

The Business End
The pitch is a 4G variety that was installed in the last close season, while of course it has powerful floodlights. If Route One Rovers are to decamp here, and money to hire it appears not to be a problem, then they’ve got themselves a very impressive home indeed. That should all be revealed in the next week or so.

The bar and the cafeteria were doing a roaring trade on a clear yet cool evening, with what I would estimate as a crowd of around 300 inside the ground, equally split between both sides and a good 
sprinkling of neutrals and blazers!

The first half was pretty even, with little in the way of clear cut chances, but early in the second period Daz Nicholls put Rawdon into the lead with a close range header from a corner that gave the Alwoodley   goalkeeper no chance at all.

Bank Siders
Minutes later it was 2-0 when some excellent passing football opened up Alwoodley and found Chris Softley on the edge of the six yard box. He manged to squeeze the ball past the goalkeeper, however, joy turned to tragedy as it became instantly clear that Softley had injured himself, badly, in scoring the goal.

Stood behind the goal, I could see the sickening extent of the injury, with the bottom half of his lower leg hanging at forty five degrees. Clearly it was broken and badly, in two places it was later reported. 
He was very quickly attended to by members of both sides as an ambulance was called.

Forty five minutes later and Softley had very carefully been lifted into the back of an ambulance and was on his way to hospital. It was an awful injury and it’s not nice to see a man in such distress and pain, but the way he was cared for and re-assured was first class. The round of applause from all sides of the ground as he was lifted into the ambulance must have been heart-warming for him.

Part of me expected the game to be abandoned if I’m honest, but with it being a prestigious Cup Final and with both sides seemingly determined to play on (as I’m sure the stricken Softley would have wanted), we got back underway.

I did think the remainder of the game would have been played with a lack of competitive edge given what had gone before, but I was wrong. To both sides credit they gave it their all for the last half an hour, and while Alwoodley threw everything at Rawdon, they couldn’t make the breakthrough.

Is That Bez From The Happy Mondays On The Right?
At the final whistle Alwoodley sank to their knees, they had put up a superb fight, while Rawdon celebrated a League and Cup double. While there was clearly every reason to celebrate, the celebrations were overshadowed somewhat given what had happened to their team mate.

Many of the after match messages of congratulations on social media also included plenty of well wishes for the man that was quite rightly named Man of the Match, Chris Softley.

I hope he makes a full recovery and returns to playing football sooner rather than later. A player of his quality will be a huge asset as a very good Rawdon Old Boys side pits itself at Step 7 for the first time.

Alwoodley can certainly play at a higher level, but I guess in their case we need to wait and see what move they make next. They would certainly be a great asset in the West Yorkshire League.

The Sad Sight Of Chris Softley Leaving The Field

Saturday, 19 May 2018

The Mythical Beast

Arthurlie  0  Hurlford United  3

Scottish Juniors – West Super League Premier Division

It was like some mythical beast.

I’d been listening for several years about just how awesome the Scottish Juniors was, in terms of the grounds, the atmosphere, the football and the general ambience that surrounds the competition.

One bloke I know who has travelled the World watching football, still claims the best period of his jaunts was when he spent a couple of years North of the border.

My old mate Jamesie has been travelling up every July and August now for several years, and for months afterwards waxes lyrical about the trips, while another fella I know who lives in Bolton travels up every week to pick up a Juniors game.

Tales of Auchinleck Talbot v Cumnock Juniors, Kilbirnie Ladeside v Beith Juniors, Pollok v Arthurlie, police on horseback, heaving terraces, officials taking pelters, scotch pies, Bucky and Tennents became commonplace, but up until now, that’s all it was, simply someone else’s tales.

Dunterlie Park
So, just what is the Scottish Juniors? Well, it’s a competition in its own right, affiliated to the Scottish FA, but in essence completely separate entity. I suppose you could argue that its Scottish non-league, but it sits outside of any pyramid system, and as the Scottish ‘Seniors’ have created a pyramid of its own via the pre-existing Highland League and the recently formed Lowland League, which are effectively non-league, it’s almost became more distanced from the perceived mainstream of Scottish football.

That said, things have moved on in recent years, by various means the more successful clubs within the Juniors can now compete in the Scottish FA Cup, which is a positive move towards something like meaningful integration.

But, in real terms, the Scottish Juniors, certainly in the Western Region which encompasses Glasgow and Ayrshire, is arguably of a higher standard, at its top end than say Scottish Division Three. The subtle difference being that in Division Three they are ‘professionals’ whereas in the Juniors they are ‘amateurs’. I would imagine a good number of Juniors earn more in ‘expenses’ than the professionals do in wages. But that is a matter that will always be to a large degree, unproven.

Warm Up
So why can’t the Seniors and Juniors get together and sort this out, create a proper pyramid, and allow clubs like Auchinleck Talbot, Linlithgow Rose, Bo’Ness United and Bonnyrigg Rose to replace some of the dead wood higher up the rankings? The answer is not straightforward, but I suspect it’s about ego, protectionism, empires and money. 

Interestingly, a number of the Eastern Juniors have applied to join the East of Scotland League to give themselves a chance of progressing to the Lowland League and ultimately the Scottish League. If that trend were to continue , and especially in the West, we’d have a revolution to contend with.

The next few years would be very interesting indeed, but  one thing the Juniors is not big on, is red tape, so ground grading, floodlights and such like are not determining factors in terms of your progress and success. That of course would have to change, and for many, that may be a move too far.

So, as far as I was concerned this was a mythical beast, because I’d heard so much about it, yet never seen it, and being realistic, not really likely to see it unless I went significantly out of my way to do so. Put simply, it wasn’t on the radar nor was it likely to ever be, unless….

The Bottom End (The Hole?)
Unless of course the new MD of our business sector is based in Glasgow and decides that it’s my turn to head North of the border to attend a meeting. I can’t say as I was overwhelmed by the prospect because whichever way I looked at it, it was going to be a ball ache, and given our tightened expenses policy, I only had a few viable options available to me.

But then, I thought about making a cursory check of fixtures, but given how late in the season it was (the end), I wasn’t overly confident. I did check the Juniors but the games are released only a week or so in advance, so nothing was doing. Until, as I say, a week before when a raft of Junior games came onto the radar for the night before my meeting, bingo…

Based on our expenses policy, I could get a train up the day before (day of the games), get a hotel (noting the spend limits) then travel back the following evening, and playing my cards right get a free evening meal out of it as well!

What had originally been a trip I’d been avoiding organising became sorted within about twenty minutes. Trains, hotels, the game, the lot! Amazing how the little things can inspire you to get off your arse isn’t it?

Pie Stall
Arthurlie v Hurlford United, two struggling sides in the Western Region top flight, but two former Scottish Junior Cup winners, a fifteen minute train journey from Glasgow Central, and a recommended boozer right outside the turnstiles, I love it when a last minute plan comes together.

The journey to Glasgow involved three trains, with the final one from Manchester being the longest jaunt, around three and a half hours. Eventually, having left Carlisle and meandered via Lockerbie alongside the M74 we eventually pulled into the final halt and I could check in to the nearby Jury’s Inn. Suitably refreshed after an obligatory Spoons Burger & Beer deal, it was time to go in search of the mythical beast!

Arthurlie are located in Barrhead, which is a fifteen minute train trip South West on the line that goes to Kilmarnock (where visiting Hurlford are based). As the train pulled in to Barrhead I could see the ground from the train and with players clearly warming up on the pitch I took a very short walk over the road to The Brig for a couple of scoops.

It was a great boozer, very much like the Duke of York in Belfast, in the sense that it had loads of football memorabilia all over the walls. It also appeared quite neutral with Celtic and Rangers in equal measures, but many of the programmes on the display were absolute classics, including a few from Arthurlie.

Away Fans Congregate
Arthurlie have been around for donkeys years, the eighteen hundreds, so with a rich history, they’ve also had their moments as a football club. Once a Scottish League club at the turn of the twentieth century, they’ve become established as a Junior club and had mixed degrees of success, but the most notable being the famous Junior Cup victory over neighbours and rivals Pollok.

Dunterlie Park was described to me by Jamesie as ‘Porn’ and to be fair, I can’t disagree with him. You enter via the turnstiles (as opposed to over the fence I guess) and in front of you is some old terracing with various steps and angles, that narrows down to the West side of the ground where the numbers of steps increase again before they peak on the half way line where they are now covered by a large enclosure.

The steps reduce again until they reach the bottom end where the changing rooms are, while on the East side it’s just a narrow area of terracing. If you want a drink or a deep fried pie then the tea bar is to the left as you walk in, otherwise, no beer, no floodlights and no seats.

You could shut your eyes and imagine what it would be like with a big crowd crammed onto the terraces, very special I would imagine, but tonight around 200 had paid the six pounds to get in, with a large number having travelled the fourteen miles from Kilmarnock.

In their last home game against Beith, Arthurlie shipped eight goals, so there was a bit of trepidation amongst the home support, especially fifteen minutes in when they could and should have been three goals down.

The Road Side
A goal didn’t arrive until just before the interval and that was for the visitors who had been the dominant side throughout the half. Standard wise it was hard to compare it to anything South of the border, but I’ll stick my neck out and say it was Step 5 / Step 4?

Playing up the slope in the second half, Hurlford got a second from the penalty spot. The decision to give a penalty went down badly with the home support who unleashed a less than complimentary appraisal of the referee’s performance. I wasn’t sure which ‘hole’ they were referring to, but it was clear what they were suggesting he stuck in it!

A third goal came in the latter stages of the game from a free kick that the goalkeeper should have done better with. It was really unfortunate for the Arthurlie goalkeeper who for me was the man of the match, pulling off save after save as Hurlford pushed forward.

So that was it, 0-3, and Arthurlie look destined to finish next to bottom in the table. I’m not sure what the implication of that is because historically that would mean relegation. But with the league due to increase in size and be renamed the ‘Premiership’ next season, they may well be safe?

A last snifter in the Brig coincided with me being able to watch Derby County fail once again in the play-offs, before the train back to Central.

The mythical beast had finally been sighted, and you know what, part of me has suddenly got the desire to find out a bit more, experience a bit more, taste a bit more of that Juniors atmosphere that is so unique, so unique that many will travel the World, yet still keep coming back.

Auchinleck in August anyone?

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Hymns & Arias

Swansea City  1  Stoke City  2

English Premiership

I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Swansea City.

It stems back to the late Seventies and  early Eighties when they had a side that won promotion for three consecutive seasons from the Fourth Division to the then First Division. And for a period in the early part of the season in the top flight, actually lead the league.

They did eventually end up finishing in sixth place, but the team that included the likes of Robbie James, John Toshack, Colin Irwin, Bob Latchford and Alan Curtis were a breath of fresh air and certainly put the wind up the old guard.

They were relegated the following season and over a number of years the decline was more gradual than the climb, but even so it was stark. Only a last day victory stopped them from dropping into the Conference in 2002.

Then they did it all over again, but not quite so quickly! From near oblivion in 2002, they moved from the Vetch Field to the Liberty Stadium in 2005, and by 2011 they were competing in the Premier League.

The Liberty
Under Brendan Rogers, and then Michael Laudrup they played some quite beautiful football, ok, it was never going to win the league, but mid-table finishes and a League Cup win, combined with a prolonged run in the Europa League, were just rewards for the sheer brilliance they were serving up.

I loved watching them, in fact, I don’t mind admitting that during my forays onto FIFA with young Master Hatt, I more often than not set myself up as Swansea City. I also loved the atmosphere they created at the Liberty that came through brilliantly on the TV, ‘Hymns & Arias’ when the crowd was in full voice was spine tingling.

I’ve only ever been to Swansea once. It would have been around the time the club first got into the Premier League. I was staying overnight in Baglan on a Friday prior to watching a game in Port Talbot that night. I got the train into Swansea and had a wander down to the Marina for a few pints. 

The Marina was lovely, but the area around the station less so. It was outside the station that I saw the iconic words “Ambition Is Critical” embedded into the concourse. I had assumed they were the poetic words of Dylan Thomas, as backed up by the quite brilliant yet dark film ‘Twin Town’ starring Rhys Ifans, but it appears they weren’t his words at all.

Twin Teams For A Twin Town
Twin Town, now that was a film, if ever a film could showcase all that is both great and bad about a City then that would be it. So many brilliant moments, so very Welsh, but so very, very funny.

I travelled past the Liberty Stadium that day on the train and did wonder how long it would take before I could get myself down for a game. To be honest, I always thought it would be a really tough gig trying to get tickets, but when they came on sale for what at the time appeared to be a potentially crucial game against Stoke City, I went online and within minutes one was being spat out by my printer.

It’s not been a great season for the Swans. Paul Clement had shocking start and was sacked, so in came former Owl Carlos Carvahal who clearly had a new dream!

Carlos had a great start and looked like the saviour, but it all went belly up and by the time I was getting in the car for what initially I thought we be a tasty dog-eat-dog survival battle, I was effectively going to a dead rubber because Stoke were doomed and barring a modern day miracle, so were the Swans.

The Away End - In Plaid Cymru Red
I don’t mind the journey down to this part of the World. The M42 and M5 are a bit dull, but by the time you’ve hopped on the M50 and got to Ross-on-Wye, the scenery is lovely all the way down to the M4 at Newport (which in itself is equally lovely in a different way!)

The M4 wends its way past Cardiff and Bridgend before arriving at Port Talbot, which again has a certain urban/rural beauty about it, not least those huge floodlights at Aberavon RFC. Just beyond Port Talbot you are crossing the bridge and leaving the motorway to take the road past the Bay Studios into Abertawe, where of course, ambition is indeed critical.

I found a car park by accident, it was at the back of the Boss Brewery. I popped in for a pint and asked if it was ok to leave my car. The answer was a positive one and it turned out to be a great move as I was straight out afterwards with no problems at all.

English Or Welsh - Take Your Pick
Outside the ground the atmosphere was raucous but good natured. Stoke had taken over the Harvester pub that backs onto the stadium concourse and were regaling us with songs about ten German bombers being downed by the RAF from Stafford. Swansea’s support were gathered outside Frankie & Benny’s next door, but not a hint of bother. Had it mattered, I’m not so sure the atmosphere would have been quite so cordial.

The ground needs very little in terms of description other than it holds 20,000 and is in the typical bowl shape that we see at Leicester for example, albeit slightly smaller. I chose to sit behind the South goal where the view was very good. The atmosphere was at the other end of the ground though, where the Stoke fans were magnificent, and a clutch of Swans sat adjacent in the East stand were doing their best to reciprocate.

It was a strange atmosphere to be fair. The Stoke fans were having a party combined with a bit of gallows humour, while the Swans fans had the gallows humour, but the atmosphere was very flat at times, while also bordering on toxic given the vitriol aimed at Chairman Huw Jenkins and the clubs American owners.

As for the game, Swansea took the lead in the fourteenth minute through Andy King, but by half time Stoke had turned it on its head thanks to goals from Badou Ndiaye and Peter Crouch.

Shaqiri managed to miss a penalty early in the second half, but despite Swans having plenty of the ball in the final third of the pitch, they had no one who seemed capable of putting the ball in the net.

Premier League Football - But When May We See It Again?
The clubs PA announcer asked that no one went on the pitch at the final whistle, and when Anthony Taylor ended the game quite abruptly with no added time, it was kind of strange and muted. No one went on the pitch, Tammy Abraham applauded the Swans fans (he’ll be loaned out in the Premier League next season – the new Patrick Bamford), and the crowd filed away. The Stoke fans sang ‘Delilah’ while everyone else went home.

As I drove out of Swansea, the commentary team on BBC Radio Wales had mixed views. Grateful and honoured to have been part of the last seven years and the success that has brought, but at the same time, deeply concerned about the direction the club is going in, especially in terms of the current ownership.

Only one meaningful version of ‘Hymns & Arias’ was sung all afternoon, and I think that says it all, but you know what? I joined in!

Monday, 14 May 2018

Rural Bolton

Bolton County  5  Manchester Gregorians  0

Manchester Football League – Premier Division

I must admit, I’ve never seen a football match played within the confines of the City of Bolton.

Ok, I’ve been to Bolton Wanderers, but not the old Burnden Park home that was in the City itself, it was the new ground, ‘The Reebok’ as it was at the time, but that is located in Horwich, and it’s not the same so I'm told?

Perhaps somewhat tenuously as well I’ve had the pleasure of numerous days out at Radcliffe Borough, but again, it’s good, but it’s not quite Bolton is it!

For some reason, Bolton isn’t endowed with non-league football teams considering it’s size, but it does have a Manchester League side in the form of Bolton County. Is Bolton indeed a County? Anyway…

I tend to take trips to the Manchester League either at the start of the season in midweek, or towards the end, also typically midweek or a Saturday if it suits.

Pasty Shop!
Of all the sides at home today, County was the one that stood out as being the one I’d yet to make a visit to, my Bolton virginity was set to be lost!

Bolton isn’t a bad place to drive through to be honest, the A666 which links the M61 runs straight through the middle of the City, past where the old Burnden Park was located and as far as I was concerned, it was a right and a right again onto Radcliffe Road and out into the less populated and slightly more rural surroundings of Darcy Lever. A doddle, if only all forward thinking Cities had road links like Bolton (Bradford take note!)

In fact, I don’t recall ever being at a more rural location in the Manchester League. As you travel along Radcliffe Road, the new build houses turn to green fields resided in by horses. The entry to the ground is down a track to the left past some kennels, and there it is, surrounded by hedges on all four sides. A scene of tranquility and parking chaos (if you arrive too early!) in terms of getting out again

With ground located I decided to take a walk to the Levers Arms that I’d spotted back down in the village, with very few customers in-situ it was as good a place as any to catch up on the latest football news, and of course the reflections and fall out of the previous days release of the Step 1 to Step 4 constitutions. Morpeth to Yaxley, yes, get in!

I See Trees Of Green......
Bolton County is quite an interesting story. They joined the West Lancashire League in 2004, playing for the majority of the time in the Second Division, bar a fleeting two season diversion into the First Division, but then for some reason in 2016 they elected to join the Manchester League.

A third place finish in the First Division last season meant they earned promotion to the top flight and Step 7 for the start of the current campaign, the move justified you might argue?

Anyway, this season has seen them pitching just below the half way point, and going into the last game of the season against Manchester Gregorians, hopes were high that they would finish on a positive note.

The ground on Radcliffe Road is railed on the three sides, while the end to the West (nearest Bolton) is a large expanse that I believe has also been used as a pitch in the past. A single story building sits adjacent to the car park behind the East goal and in it are the dressing rooms and a tea bar serving the finest meat and potato pasties!

Where The Houses Stop - Bolton County Starts
The game was pretty one sided against a side I saw just a few days earlier record a very useful and deserved victory over Dukinfield Town. It was three nil at half time, and two more goals in the second period saw the hots go nap (as they used to say in the tabloids back in the Seventies and Eighties!)

Romain Maubaret grabbed a brace, while Dimitri Wasaulua, Tom Axon-Smith and Danny Hill also found the net. Tom Aspen was sent off for the hosts as the game entered stoppage time, but by now the points were well and truly safe.

The result means Gregs finish third from bottom, and to be fair under normal circumstances that would mean relegation, but with restructuring looking like taking two clubs from the top flight into the North West Counties League, it may well be that they earn a reprieve. I hope so because they struck me as a well run and professional club when I saw them at home four days ago.

As for Bolton County, it’s a season to build on. They had some good support on a fine day, and if they can make some additions to the squad then why shouldn’t they be looking at a top six finish next time round?

Bolton, it’s a footballing hotbed you know??

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Stock Cars

Manchester Gregorians  2  Dukinfield Town  1

Manchester Football League – Premier Division

I would imagine it would have been around 1978 when I was taken to my one and only stock car meeting, at Brafield-on-the-Green near Northampton.

I was taken by my Dad and one of our neighbours, Digby, who was also into the sport. When I say into the sport, at that time, from memory, football had ceased to exist in our house, it was all about the stock cars. We had programmes, magazines, coats, stickers, Top Trumps, the lot. I think Dad was between his spell watching an ailing Derby County and the start of his long relationship with Belper Town.

If Only.....
I used to get up on a Saturday morning, well before my parents stirred, and sneak downstairs to read the programme from the meeting the night before, be it at Long Eaton, Belle Vue, Sheffield, Birmingham, Bradford or even Skegness.

I knew the names of all the drivers as well, Bert Finnikin, Dave Mellor, Stuart Smith, Dave Beresford and Frankie Wainman to name but a few. The popularity of the sport appeared to be huge, but then for some reason, and I seem to think a serious crash occurred one evening where members of the crowd were injured, my Dad stopped going and returned to football.

A few years ago now, a programme was aired by the BBC called 'Gears and Tears', which was about the rivalry between the Smith family and the Wainman family. The sons of the legends of the seventies were now vying for supremacy on the ovals of the UK, and it was compelling viewing. The money needed to compete in the sport at the top level was vast. I enjoyed watching it, as did my Dad, I suspect it brought back a few memories.

It's Screaming Football....
In more recent years I’ve probably paid a bit more attention to Speedway if I’m honest, mainly because my mate Steve was a big fan of the sport (less so in the last couple of years), plus, his wife Julie was probably an even bigger fan and is now a promotor for Sheffield Tigers.

So why on a night when I’ve been to see Manchester Gregorians play, am I waxing lyrical about the great days of stock car racing, and to a lesser extent speedway?

It’s simple really. Gregs (as they are more commonly known), play on an artificial pitch at Belle Vue Stadium in Manchester. To one side of the pitch is the greyhound stadium (where I understand the stock car track is also based), while to the other side of the pitch is the new National Speedway Stadium that is the home to Belle Vue Aces.

Belle Vue is an historic sporting venue, yet until now it’s not really featured on the football map, but with a little bit more foresight, it could have been.

Belle Vue - But Not As Many Would Know It
When they built the fantastic new stadium, with its large stand and corporate facilities on the home straight, and its covered terraces on the back straight, they also put an artificial football pitch in what is more commonly known as the centre green. The trouble is, the pitch isn’t quite big enough for senior football. I seem to recall a couple of years ago Northwich Manchester Villa had it inspected as a possible venue for North West Counties League football, and it was at that point the issue came to light. Had it been the right size, then it would have made for a fantastic home for a football club, but alas, it was not to be.

That said though, it isn’t all bad news because if you skirt around the back straight from the confines of the sports centre, you eventually arrive at the purpose built floodlit surface that is now the home of a Gregs side that made some noises a few years back about progressing through the leagues.

I arrived at Belle Vue around an hour before kick off, and my first thoughts were of liquid refreshments. I’d done my homework, badly it seemed. The Q Club opposite the stadium on Kirkmanshulme Lane was shut for refurbishment while all hopes of a pint in Gala Bingo were dashed when it appeared that too wasn’t open. I’d been tipped off that they had a bar at the Showcase Cinema complex, I was right but it was bottles and it was expensive.

Rugby - On An Artificial Pitch?
Back at the sports centre it was vending machines only, but suitably drained of cash and refreshed I made my way to the pitch, where a small crowd, including a number of hoppers were in place to watch the game. One of the hoppers was indeed Hoddy from Crewe who I last heard had been to over 7,000 grounds worldwide, and more recently in Africa watching games in places that the British Government do not advise travelling to! 

As for the game, well like many taking place artificial pitches, it was entertaining with some good quality football played despite neither side pulling up any trees in the league this season. The visitors took the lead in the first half before the hosts found an equaliser.

Gregs scored a fantastic winning goal very late in the game from distance, and on balance of play was the least they deserved for their endeavours.

So that was Belle Vue, but oh to have been there in the seventies watching Frankie Wainman and Stuart Smith battling for the World Championship. While I might not have seen it, I was fortunate to both read about it and hear about first hand from someone that was there. Maybe one day the two of us might make one more appearance at a stock car track, it seems an awful long time since we were at Brafield-on-the-Green.  

Wednesday, 9 May 2018


Daten  7  Cheadle Town Reserves  2

Cheshire Football League – First Division

Stood at the bar in the Culcheth Sports Club, my curiosity was getting the better of me.

Firstly, where the hell did the resident football team’s name ‘Daten’ come from, and why were they nicknamed ‘The Atoms’?

The Daten
Apparently, the Sports Club in the Cheshire village located on the outskirts of Warrington, is also nicknamed ‘The Daten’, so, there was only one thing I could do, ask the bar staff.

“Department of Atomic Energy” – an acronym, because it appears the social club used to serve the government department that was located nearby in Risley. The site is no longer operational but the name has stuck. So mystery solved, and probably not a lot of people outside of Culcheth itself know the story of the name. Must remember that for when I next get invited to run a pub quiz….

What made me go to Nukesville then on May Day? Well Daten are looking nailed on to get promotion from the First Division of the Cheshire League, and with me being a completeist in terms of the Premier Division, it was an opportunity to get a visit in before they became a fully-fledged Step 7 club.

The Culcheth Expanses
Not only that though, they are also quite clearly an ambitious club because they applied for Step 6 football earlier in the campaign. Given the number of applicants who already operate at Step 7 from the same league, jumping ahead of them in the pecking order was always going to be unlikely, but you have to admire their intentions.

I must admit though, I went more in hope than expectation that the game would actually be taking place. Two days earlier the reserves of Cheadle Town were unable to raise a side for the away game at AFC Macclesfield, so did that bode well for them making an appearance on a sweltering Bank Holiday?

With Added Tennis Courts
I tried to make contact via phone and Twitter, but didn’t have any luck, however with a back-up plan at Ford Motors not too far away, I decided to gamble on it. Lo and behold, as I pulled into the large car park, two sets of players were busy warming up, we had a game!

Two wins from three games would see Daten win the title ahead of nearest challengers Egerton, while Cheadle sat next to bottom of the table, so to be fair I was expecting to see a home victory, but before I come onto the game, what about the facilities?

The ground is located very close to the centre of Culcheth, and consists of two full sized and railed pitches sitting next to the large Social Club. There was plenty of al-fresco drinking space available and on a beautiful day a decent sized crowd was gathering for a combination of refreshment and football. The social club is a very smart facility indeed, as you would expect of one that once served some of the finest nuclear boffins in the land, probably!

Match Action
The game went the way the form book suggested. By half time Daten were 4-0 up and coasting, and despite a couple of defensive lapses in the second period they went on to score three more goals. The best goal was the seventh effort which was a superb lob from inside their own half that beat the back peddling Cheadle goalkeeper and bounced perfectly into the back of the net.

I expect Daten to go on to wrap up the championship on Saturday when they take on West Didsbury & Chorlton Reserves at home. Bit how will they fare in the top flight? Pretty well I expect, and with facilities that have scope for development, certainly from a space perspective, maybe that dream of achieving Step 6 football might not be that far away.

The Crowd Gathers
The Borough of Warrington certainly has room for another team higher up the football pyramid, and with a clutch of local clubs in the Cheshire League vying for position as top dog, Daten have the potential, and are as well placed as anyone to make the step up.

As their profile raises and their progression gets noticed, they can expect a few more people asking the very same question I did. The Department of Atomic Energy in Cheshire might be set for a revival!

Monday, 7 May 2018

Charm Offensive

Swindon Town  3  Accrington Stanley  0

English Football League – League Two

“You smell nice, have you got a boyfriend?”

Welcome to Swindon, the home of some of the finest chat up lines known to man (and woman), the 
latest destination on my personal crusade to complete the 92.

I was minding my own business having a quiet pint in the beer garden of the County Ground Hotel, when up wandered a couple of lads, clearly benefiting from a combination of alcohol and marching powder. They asked if they could join me, to which I was more than happy of the company!

Their first observation was that I wasn’t from Swindon, so clearly I was from Accrington, but when I explained that I was actually from Derby, it rang alarm bells. Why?

I began to explain my quest of the 92, but one of them wasn’t having it, not one bit. I was a scout, a spy, something far more sinister even. I was doing his swede big style. So the questions started….

“Have you ever been to Carlisle?”

“What’s Northampton’s ground called?”

“Why are you not watching Derby today?”

“Who was Derby’s best signing in 2001?”

And finally

“If you we’re manager of Swindon Town, what would you do?”

One of the lads was very much on my side as I answered one banal question after another, the other chap, between resting his muddled head on the table, was struggling with the whole concept of my existence. I could have really thrown a spanner in the works by talking about non-league football, but I sensed the invitation I had got minutes earlier to spend the entire game with them in the Town End would have been withdrawn, and I didn’t want that….

Shrivenham Road Stand
I decided to fight fire with fire with the suspicious one, who at one point I suspected was looking for a rumble.

“Did you ever watch Swindon when they were Premier League?”

“What did you think of Glenn Hoddle when he was your Player Manager?”

And finally, the clincher…

“How many times have you watched Swindon play?”

Her paused for a second as the chemicals reacted, and gave me his reply.

“At least three times, possibly four, I’m not sure, I support Man United to be honest.”

The muddled one needed more liquid, so off he went, leaving me with the younger and more aware one. We chatted about both of our jobs when over wandered two women, both wearing boardroom passes round their necks.

“Do you mind if we join you?”

Now, two thoughts went through my mind, the first being…

“You really don’t know what you are about to let yourself in for”

And secondly…

“Thank you, this might be my get out of jail card!”

Back came the muddled one, and his attention immediately diverted to the younger and more attractive one, who was sat next to myself. It was at that point he uttered Swindon’s finest chat up line.

She replied, it appeared her boyfriend was indeed a member of the Accrington coaching staff, but that didn’t matter to our friend.

“So, what you are saying is that right now, your boyfriend isn’t here?”

The younger one, seeing what route this was clearly taking, decided to jump in.

“She’s got a boyfriend mate, he’s in the ground, just leave it.”

At this point I turned to the woman and explained I was nothing to do with the other two fellas, who by now were arguing. She laughed and told me exactly who her boyfriend was, and it wouldn’t be fair to name names, but suffice to say, if he had a one on one with Mr Muddle, there would only be one winner!

Main Stand
But, the lad’s attentions had been diverted, I could make my escape, which I did, to the bar, and I never went back, although as I walked back towards the ground, the ladies were still being serenaded and I had clearly been forgotten.

I’m not sure why it’s taken this long to get to Swindon Town, it’s only a couple of hours from home, but for some reason it’s just been one of those venues that I’ve never got round to.

The journey was uneventful, until of course I arrived at the famous Magic Roundabout which sits next to Swindon’s County Ground. I knew where I wanted to go, so came up with a plan that was more kamikaze than cunning! Just go, basically, in the general direction, like a German would, and it worked, three mini-roundabouts crossed without so much as an indication or a brake light.

Once in the ground on a baking hot day, I liked what I saw. Two similar two-tier seated stands on either side of the pitch, with the impressive travelling away fans in the bottom corner of what is effectively the main stand. I was behind the goal in the shallow seated Town End with the vocal element, while the open seated end opposite was closed off. They also had proper floodlight pylons, and I’m not sure how many of the 92 have them nowadays, but they are certainly becoming rarer.

Stanley had already won the Championship, Swindon had missed out on the Play-Offs, so it was a dead rubber. After Stanley created the better chances in the early stages, it was Swindon who took the lead through Marc Richards in the 14th minutes.

It was 2-0 prior to the break, when the impressive Keshi Anderson scored in the 43rd minute, but even that wasn’t enough to quieten the dissenting home support who poured vitriol on the home players and Manager Phil Brown for a season they considered to be a failure.

I mean, to run out at your home ground to be greeted by your hardcore support chanting “We’re f***ing shit!” at full volume can’t be either helpful or inspiring, can it?

The second half was not especially remarkable and it didn’t come as a huge shock when Paul Mullin got a third goal. Stanley were clearly thinking about the party they had planned, and fair play to them, it’s a remarkable story and John Coleman has done an incredible job to get them promoted. I was especially pleased for goalkeeper Aaron Chapman who I saw playing for Belper Town just prior to him going pro at Chesterfield, a great lad who’s dream has come true.

We then had a double sending off for a bout of handbags and shoving. Jimmy Dunne with a straight red for the visitors and then James Dunne with a second yellow for Swindon. Quiz question, how many times have two players with the same names been sent off in the same game, at the same time? I think I may have seen history!

At the final whistle I bolted for the car and was out of Dodge in double quick time. It had been a very enjoyable day, albeit a little bit bizarre.

I hope the two ladies found their way back to the boardroom safely, as for my two newly found friends, I daren't think what Saturday night was going to look like, assuming of course they actually managed to see it!

The Eclectic Town End